Discover the Reason Why Moose Grow Antlers in Spring and Shed Them in Winter
“A bull grows his first set beginning with his first birthday, in general, and they grow in size and shape each year until around 11, when growth is minimal,” Lee Kantar, moose biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife, told National Geographic. “They are highly vascularized tissue that rapidly grow from early spring to near summer’s end.”
Kantar was discussing the growth of antlers in a moose, the world’s largest deer species. Antlers are a head growth that’s usually sported by the male members of the Cervidae family such as deer, elk, and moose – with the exception of the reindeer (caribou) whose females also develop and shed antlers.
Antlers are different from horns which are permanent head growths of cows, goats, sheep, and other mammals. Horns are composed of keratin, the same stuff that makes up our fingernails, hair, and the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). Horns in animals are part of their skull; that’s why they are not being shed off. Also, the purpose of horns is weaponry as a defense against predators and offense in battling for mates.
On the other hand, antlers are made of the fastest-growing tissue in mammals that forms into a bone. The growing bone is covered by fine hair that’s called velvet. Underneath the velvet are veins that supply calcium and other nutrients to the developing antlers. Eventually, the velvet dies and the cervid scrapes it off to reveal his fully-grown headgear.
However, unlike horns, the primary purpose of antlers, which achieve full growth by late summer, is for reproduction according further to Kantar. Female cervids are more attracted to males with large antlers because they appear more robust. Male cervids may also use their antlers to intimidate rivals or fight for “love.”
But, after the mating season, the antlers have no more use, and so the male cervids discard them. And really, these bony head growths are easy to shed off by jumping, head-shaking, or jousting.
Watch this viral video to catch a glimpse of a moose who gets caught by surprise when his antlers suddenly fell off!
A doorbell camera in Houston – Alaska captures the rare sight of a Moose shedding both his antlers last week. pic.twitter.com/HHJCEB2vyl
— Michael Warburton (@MichaelWarbur17) December 26, 2022
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